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Last Shots: On Wade’s Last Dance, building a culture, and Saric’s quick start

MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty-two quick thoughts for the 22 minutes played by Josh Okogie in the 111-109 Minnesota Timberwolves victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night at Target Center.

1. Miami’s Dwyane Wade doesn’t have many dances left as he completes his final tour of the NBA. Friday night was his last stop at Target Center, and it was almost one more magical moment for the future Hall of Fame guard.

2. The Wolves led 111-109 in the final seconds of the game, and Wade had the opportunity to be the hero in the same city he earned a trip to the Final Four 16 years prior. Back then, Wade’s Marquette squad took down Kentucky to advance to the Final Four. It was his coming out party of sorts. His going away party didn’t go as well in the same city.

3. Wade’s shot at the buzzer, which was precluded by three pump fakes, rimmed out. He was close to yet another magical moment, and what would have been his second game-winner inside Target Center, adding to his layup with less than five seconds remaining in a 2011 game.

4. “Hope it doesn’t go in,” Saunders said he was thinking when the shot was in the air. “You almost feel like it’s like a story book type situation. He’s the epitome of class in the NBA. Just how he’s been, how he approaches the game, takes care of his body. He has an unbelievable first half tonight. We’re sending him off the way he should be sent off in terms of honoring him here. The fans were great both for us and then also honoring Dwyane Wade. It’s one of those things where you’re looking at it and you’ve seen him do it before. You have flashbacks to playoff series, Finals, things like that. You’re just hoping it doesn’t come back to get you.”

5. Even with the shot bouncing awry, Wade played a spectacular game in his last trip to Minnesota. His first half was electric as he put up 21 points on just nine shots. Everything was working for him, and the Wolves had trouble finding a way to stop him. Things changed in the second half. The Wolves limited Wade and the rest of the Heat.

6. The Wolves are looking at nights like these – losing when it actually hurts the lottery odds of the franchise – as nights to build a new culture. That’s been the word that’s been mentioned by a number of different players and Saunders himself during this recent stretch. There’s been so much talk of building good habits towards next season that it feels like this locker room is bought in to Saunders returning as coach.

7. Maybe it’s fitting that a night like this takes place against the Heat. That organization has built its post-LeBron James era on “Heat Culture” and doing things the right way. There’s no questioning that Erik Spoelstra routinely maximizes the potential of his roster. The hope is that Saunders can do the same.

8. “I just think he’s so ready for this position, and it’s not easy, particularly being young, I have great respect for him,” Spoelstra said of Saunders pregame. “But what stands out more than anything else is just a terrific person who can relate to a lot of different kinds of people, and he’s proven that in his young career. I hope he gets this job, I think he’s deserving and he’d do a terrific job.”

9. Obviously, Spoelstra’s words shouldn’t hold nearly as much weight for the Wolves as the endorsement that Karl-Anthony Towns game Saunders last week.

10. Saunders himself has his eyes on building things for a better future for this group. Plenty of question marks remain, but it’s becoming tougher and tougher to envision anyone other than Saunders coaching this team next year.

11. There have been some things that Saunders has done that have worked. Others have gone poorly, or still need time. One of the adjustments he made after taking the interim position was moving Dario Saric into the starting lineup.

12. There have been nights when Saric has struggled, but Friday wasn’t one of them. He gave the Wolves terrific production early in the game, scoring eight of his team-high 19 points in the first quarter.

13. “That’s what we wanted when we inserted Dario into the starting lineup. We had a very balanced scoring attack tonight. Our All-NBA center played under 30 minutes and he had 13 points. Dario stepped up, Wiggs stepped up. Wiggs was efficient, he was 7-of-12, with 18 points, he was really good defensively and that’s what we need from him. It’s good to have a balanced attack because when your star player, Karl, who you play a lot of the offense through might not have it going, or they might be doing a good job with him, other guys can step up.”

14. This is the version of Saric the Wolves need more of next season. This version of him fits perfectly in the front court with Towns, he just needs to appear more often than he currently does.

15. The other player that’s shown up quite a bit lately has been Gorgui Dieng. Friday night was another impressive performance by the player once exiled to the end of the bench, missing from the rotation following the All-Star break.

16. “It was tough for Gorgui when he was not playing, when he wasn’t in the rotation,” Saunders said. “It was hard, but he didn’t pout. He was a great teammate on the bench. Then he came in and worked every day so he just stayed professional. Usually when you put the work in and your heart is pure with what you do, results are going to follow. The results might not be immediately and they might not be exactly what you want, but somehow the results are going to follow and Gorgui is just an example of that.”

17. Dieng is an example of what a new culture could potentially do for a player who doesn’t have things always going their way. By no means should it be expected that he keeps up his output this high, but games like this are a reminder of what he’s capable of.

18. Miami knocked down 10 3-pointers against the Wolves on Friday night. The ninth made three was one that made a bit of history.

19. The make was the 1,000th made 3-pointer by an opponent of the Wolves this season. That’s the first time in franchise history that the Wolves have allowed 1,000 threes in a season, and they’re just the second squad in NBA history to allow that many. They joined this year’s Milwaukee Bucks as the only other team to allow as many 3-pointers, as the Bucks allowed their 1,000th the night before against Philadelphia.

20. After the game, Wade has made a tradition of swapping his jersey with an opposing player. Friday night was no different as Wade’s career winds down. He picked Towns to trade jerseys with.

21. “I’ll put it in my office. I like looking at it. Those are memories,” Towns said. “I’m not a guy who looks for jerseys or stuff like that. I’m not a guy [to be] taking pictures with legends and stuff, but it’s always great to have pictures of me playing against them. Certain guys like D-Wade and Derrick [Rose] I take a little more pride in having. I’m very honored to have both their jerseys.”

22. The Wolves play their second-to-last home game on Sunday afternoon against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Talk to you then.


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